Texas, Florida Slowly Expanding, Improving $10,000 Bachelor’s Degree Programs

At the urging of political leaders, in Texas and Florida, public colleges are slowly developing and adopting low-cost bachelor's degree programs. Two Republican governors, Rick Scott in Florida and Rick Perry in Texas, have been strong proponents of affordable bachelor's degrees.

Perry and Scott have called on colleges to offer bachelor's degrees that would cost no more than $10,000. Gov. Perry wants 10% of the state's colleges to offer low-cost bachelor's degrees using online learning, while in Florida, Gov. Scott called for low-cost degrees in high-demand fields, writes Tamar Lewin of The New York Times.

The Republicans' efforts toward a more accessible, affordable 4-year degree have been criticized by Democrats, who said the idea would lead to a watered down ‘Walmartization' of higher education.

Colleges in Florida and Texas have begun offering the $10,000 degrees on a limited basis. The original goal was that the degree initiatives would use new teaching techniques and technologies to bring down costs, but so far many of the programs are unchanged.

In Florida, two dozen former community colleges that volunteered to meet the $10,000 challenge.

Broward College offers the low-cost degree for its four smallest bachelor's programs — middle-school math education, middle-school science education, information technology, and global trade and logistics. The low-cost baccalaureate is available to a total of 80 students and have been designed to confront the dropout problem that plagues community colleges nationwide.

"This isn't going to be for the masses," said J. David Armstrong, Broward's president, adding that it would be impossible to offer thousands of low-cost degrees unless the state funded the program.

Randy Hanna, the chancellor of the Florida College System, showed support for the affordable degrees program, saying that it is an important addition to the state's broad array of options. The Florida system already offers some of the nation's cheapest programs with tuition and fees averaging $13,264 for a four-year degree.

In Texas, 13 institutions that offer $10,000 degrees. Most of degrees are based on students' amassing college credits while they are still in high school, or at a community college, whose tuition may not be included in the total.

"There's been an evolution," said Dominic Chavez, a spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, acknowledging that the first round of programs did not exactly reach the $10,000 goal.

Many academic leaders, including the Association of American Universities President Hunter R. Rawlings III, are still doubtful about the political quest for cheaper degrees.

"It's at the lower end of the scale, treating higher ed as a commodity, and I think that's a bad thing, because education is so different from making widgets," Rawlings said. "It does sound a bit like Walmart."

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